Gareth Patterson launched Belfast Coffee Map in 2017. He describes it as a pocket sized guide to the best coffee in Belfast. “What we offer in Belfast is unique to us. It’s about the experience and the fabric of the city.”
A qualified GP, Gareth describes medicine as “a lovely marriage” of his interest in science and his approach as a people person. Belfast Coffee Map is a personal project. It is inspired by a love of Belfast and coffee in equal measures, and underpinned by an obvious focus on how place, experience, and quality are all important for the city’s future. “I love food and drink! There’s nothing better than somewhere that has a really authentic offering, where you can sit and have this incredible experience that’s about the coffee, your surroundings, and the people who serve you. The essence of that in a place is that it’s the personality of the place.”
What is the challenge you’re working to address in Belfast?
I think it’s about finding ways to inspire people about the city, about what’s happening around us and making that about the Belfast experience. There are three challenges really. One is to make more people aware of how the city is changing. Second, is to believe in our abilities. And the third is to be true to what makes Belfast unique. Some people think that Belfast has nothing to offer, but livability and visitor experience are incredible. That has a lot to do with our people. Yet, the narrative that we don’t really do much really limits the potential and capabilities of our people. And when people have ideas to change this, there seems to be something missing in how formal support networks actually provide support. If everyone was encouraged enough and saw the potential of what they could offer, then Belfast would be very different.
How are you thinking and doing differently?
People, and the idea of community, are really important to me. While on holiday in Barcelona I saw a coffee map highlighting all of its artisan coffee shops. It really added to my experience: I drank great coffee and met lovely people. The idea of a coffee community made it more than just a way to get through medical training! And it felt like a new type of community in a place where we have a tendency to look to the past. I just had the idea that a Belfast Coffee Map could help tell the story of Belfast’s growing coffee community and get more people involved in it. It’s a way of telling a story of how the city’s changing and connecting it with local people, but also of letting visitors know what we have to offer in terms of a local experience.
After a few months of reluctance, I started talking. One thing I was very mindful about throughout is the importance of relationships. I spent a lot of time visiting coffee shops before the map came to fruition. Hopefully they were able to see that I was sincere and believed in the idea. Lots of people asked why I was doing it. I love being a doctor. It’s just that sometimes medicine is very rules based. My creative side grabs my attention a lot and this felt like a good way for me to express it. The beauty about creativity is that it’s unique: by virtue of being human, we’re all creative and we all have ways in which we creatively express ourselves. Artisan coffee, or food, or crafts is about the maker. It’s their personality in the artisanal approach.
So, Belfast Coffee Map comes from loving Belfast, seeing an opportunity to enhance people’s authentic experience of the city, and wanting to celebrate something that was meaningful to me in a creative way.
What will make a Successful Belfast for you?
A city that accepts its challenges, but doesn’t let them get in the way. Every city has challenges. It’s about changing your attitude to how you respond to those challenges. Part of that has to be about encouraging people. My own experience with Belfast Coffee Map was definitely about me being reluctant. Would people see my vision and my passion? Would they put their trust in me? Thankfully, they did. How people responded to my idea helped break down my reluctance and I’m incredibly grateful to the people who believed in me. Imagine if there was somebody who had a real passion and they weren’t being supported to take the risk. That’s the shame, when people aren’t taking risks because its not feasible for them. So it’s about Belfast learning to encourage people to dream big.